THURSDAY, JUNE 4, 2015
Part 4—A certain odor is gone: The non-candidacy of Candidate Bush is discussed in today’s New York Times.
To read that report, click here.
Let’s be clear—Jeb Bush hasn’t declared himself a candidate yet. He has said he’ll make a major announcement on June 15. It’s always possible that he’ll say he isn’t running for president.
Given the fact that it’s early June of the year before, none of this actually matters. Except for the fund-raising edge non-candidacy confers.
Under our complicated fund-raising laws, a person who wants to win the White House can actually raise more money as a non-candidate. As long as non-candidate Bush keeps saying he hasn’t decided, he can raise money in large amounts—amounts which will become illegal the instant he declares.
Serious people have said that Bush is breaking the spirit, and even the letter, of our fund-raising laws. Two major watchdog groups have even “called on the Justice Department to appoint a special counsel to investigate whether Mr. Bush had broken election law,” the Times reports today.
Which groups have called for a special counsel? The Times doesn’t spend much time on this question, so we incomparably will:
One of the groups, Democracy 21, is directed by Fred Wertheimer, the long-standing Olympian god of fund-raising watchdogs. Within the press corps, Wertheimer’s word is treated as law, depending on who he’s challenging.
The other group, the Campaign Legal Center, is run by Trevor Potter, a former chairman of the FEC who served as general counsel to Candidate McCain in Campaign 2008.
These are major non-partisan groups. They’ve called for a special counsel to investigate non-candidate Bush.
Such charges have led to this morning’s report, which runs 1155 words and appears on page A18.
That’s right! This morning’s report appears on page A18 of our hard-copy Times. It doesn’t appear on the paper’s front page. It’s good-humored, fair and quite balanced.
We don’t have a problem with the tone or the placement of this morning’s report. That said, it does remind us of the way the Times covered Campaign 2000.
Can you recall the horrific journalism of that history-changing campaign? The Times assigned the young Frank Bruni to cover that season’s Candidate Bush. As almost everyone has noted by now, Panchito’s reporting of Candidate Bush tilted toward rather soft.
By way of contrast, Katharine Seelye was assigned as the newspaper’s Gore reporter. Her reporting was so poisonous that some journalists actually noticed the problem and mentioned it in real time, if in a rather low voice.
For our money, the Times’ reporting of Candidate Bush tilted toward soft in that campaign, but it stayed within the boundaries of acceptable journalism. By way of contrast, the paper’s reporting of Candidate Gore went crazily over the line—in the opposite direction!
We recalled that unfortunate pattern when we read this morning’s report.
We don’t have a problem with the amiable tone of the piece, or with its attempt to be fair and balanced in its treatment of non-candidate Bush. That said, the fairness and balance of the report contrasts with the New York Times’ Clinton reporting, which has been making an ugly joke of the paper’s front page.
Go ahead! Compare the tone of today’s report with the front-page poison delivered by Deborah Sontag last weekend. With the 2200 words of poison dumped on the Times front page.
We detected the smell of total war in that ludicrous front-page report. As we perused its puzzling contents, we recalled the 4400 words of poison in the Times’ earlier front-page report—in the so-called “bombshell report” about the scary, Cold War-inflected, frightening uranium deal.
It’s easy to see what non-candidate Bush is accused of doing. For ourselves, we don’t hugely care about such matters. But Wertheimer and Potter are major players—and such allegations produce loud screeching at the Times, depending on where they are aimed.
It’s easy to see what Bush is accused of. In the case of the Clinton Foundation’s partnering with the Happy Hearts Fund, it’s very, very hard to see what is supposed to be wrong.
The Happy Hearts matter went to page one. Sontag delivered 2200 words of incoherent insinuation and general all-around poison. There was even some sexy-time talk!
By way of contrast, the Bush situation was assigned to page A18. It received 1100 words of fair and balanced treatment, as would be completely appropriate if not for the weird journalistic imbalance involved.
The earlier, endless “bombshell report” remains the most striking report of the so-called campaign. But uh-oh!
As with the Happy Hearts matter, it’s hard to see what the allegation turns out to be in that endlessly tricked-out report. That said, the 4400-word opus was clogged with insinuation; its sprawling layout and seven photos conveyed a clear impression. A reader had to proceed with great care to see that the Times had produced a journalistic chimera—a report which produces no indication that any offense occurred.
We detected the smell of total war in Sontag’s front-page report. No such odor emanates from this morning’s report.
We still want to follow up on the earlier bombshell report. Tomorrow, we’ll look at the slippery report about alleged disclosure problems which appeared in the Times one week later. We’ll also engage in a very rare act:
We’ll ask public editor Margaret Sullivan to clarify a seven-year old alleged fact.
In the end, isn’t it time that we start getting basic facts right?
We’ve seen this very bad movie before. We’ll suggest that you start fighting back hard, and that you do so right now.
Tomorrow: How to read the New York Times
This afternoon: The front page of today’s Post